In the early 1970s, Steve Blass was one of the top pitchers of all time. For starters, he helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Then, in 1972, he was named runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award, given to the best pitcher.
But because of the yips, Blass lost his ability to properly pitch a ball. In turn, he retired in 1975, and the yips earned the nickname, “Steve Blass disease.”
The condition isn’t specific to baseball, though. The yips, or wrist twitches that happen during a certain motion, can affect other athletes, too.
In the past, people thought the yips were solely caused by anxiety and stress. But now, scientists have learned that neurological factors can also play a role.
If you’re wondering if the yips are real and what causes this condition, read on. We’ll explore the symptoms, why it happens, and possible treatment options.
What are the yips?
The “yips” is an informal term for a movement disorder involving your wrists. It causes involuntary muscle spasms when you’re trying to perform a specific movement.
Commonly, the yips are associated with baseball players and golfers. The term “yips” was coined by Tommy Armour, a professional golf player, in the early 1900s.
Other athletes can develop the yips, too. This includes people who play:
The yips can also affect non-athletes, including those who frequently:
- play a musical instrument
In these scenarios, the condition is often called “writer’s dystonia” or “musician’s dystonia” instead of the yips, but the symptoms are similar.
What are the symptoms of the yips?
The yips generally occur when you’re doing a specific action, like putting or handwriting. Symptoms include:
- muscle jerks (most common)
- shaking or tremors
- feeling “locked” or frozen
These symptoms usually don’t happen when you’re doing other activities.
What causes the yips?
It’s thought that the yips are due to neurological and psychological causes. These include:
- Focal dystonia. Focal dystonia, a neurological condition, involves involuntary spasms that affect one body part. It’s often associated with repetitive movements.
- Performance anxiety. This causes psychological “choking,” or feeling extremely anxious about your athletic performance. The anxiety can be so intense that it disrupts your ability.
- A combination of both. Some people develop the yips due to a combination of focal dystonia and performance anxiety. Stress and anxiety can also worsen focal dystonia.
You may be more prone to these causes if you:
How to treat the yips
There are several ways to treat the yips or reduce your symptoms.
Depending on the cause of your condition, you may need one or more of the following treatments:
Changing your technique
The gold standard for yips treatment is changing your technique or equipment. For example, you can:
- change the way you hold a putter
- use a different putter
- change your grip
Botulinum toxin therapy, or Botox, may be ideal if your condition is mainly neurological. Botox is an injectable treatment that’s frequently used for some types of dystonia, including focal dystonia.
The injection uses botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin, to disrupt nerve signals to a muscle. This relaxes the muscle, which reduces spasms.
The effects of Botox are temporary, though. After 3 to 6 months, you’ll likely need another injection for continuous relief.
Behavioral therapy can help manage anxiety, which can worsen the neurological and psychological aspects of the yips. Possible methods include:
How athletes get rid of the yips
In general, how athletes get rid of the yips depends on the cause.
If it’s mainly due to focal dystonia, they’ll change their grip or movement.
Many athletes also overcome the yips by working with a sports psychologist and learning mental strategies. These methods can help reduce anxiety and change how you mentally approach your symptoms.
For example, a sports psychologist might teach you how to:
- avoid overthinking
- gain confidence
- focus on the movement
Some athletes practice their moves in fields without any bystanders. This way, they can work through their performance issues without people watching.
The yips are a real condition that affect athletes and people who frequently write, type, or play an instrument. It can be caused by a neurological disorder, performance anxiety, or a mix of both.
If you have the yips, try changing your grip or technique. You can also work with a sports psychologist to better manage anxiety. Methods like positive self-talk can improve your focus and athletic performance.